The bright blue, sunny Southern California sky may, on the surface, seem to illuminate everything with optimism, dreams, happiness and cuddly kittens, but underneath there is a place of lurking shadows, dark secrets and buried tragedies. A place that many try to sweep away and cover up, that causes others to whisper or formulate outlandish rumors or legends. This is the place where Scott Michaels, owner and proprietor of Dearly Departed Tours is very much at home. He is a cheerful expert on Los Angeles celebrity death and scandal.
It is a certainty that Scott knows his stuff. He not only runs a tour company, but is a fan of the macabre and a collector as well. He will excitedly show off his collection of memorabilia related to celebrity deaths- a piece of the tree that killed T-Rex singer Marc Bolan, a tile from the swimming pool in which a drugged-up Brian Jones drowned, the door behind which voluptuous drag queen Divine drew his last breath or a Darvocet bottle prescribed to tragic actress Natalie Wood. Scott will tell you he loves the facts about these cases, but what makes him tick most is the juicy gossip involved- that which makes these stories interesting, relatable and human.
Dearly Departed Tours has been in business eight years. It specializes in shining a light into the thick fog of these hidden shadows by entertaining and educating van loads of death and crime groupies with the facts, the gossip and the locations of infamous headline inspiring cases. Scott offers three main tours, all about two and a half hours long. The first, The Tragical History Tour promises not only dozens of “last breath” locations, but also singles out sights of infamy, where celebrity missteps and misdeeds have brought embarrassing and often hard to shake media attention. The next, Hollywood Movie Tours, is a guided tour of Hollywood film locations, focusing on about 50 popular films. The third tour surrounds the murderous and fear inducing Manson Family, whose senseless slaughter of actress Sharon Tate and several others helped to bring the idealism of the purple hazed ’60s to a screeching halt.
The Manson tour, aptly named Helter Skelter, led by Scott himself, condenses much of the abundant information about the Family’s killing spree into an easy to follow and, dare I say, fun conversational format. Although the subject matter is obviously dark, there are laughs involved, many aimed at Manson, his followers and their confused doctrines. Scott interlaces events that were contemporary to the murders and plays music related to the time (including music by both Charles Manson and his Family) to give a real feel for the period. While driving to various Manson-related sites, obviously including the LaBianca murder scene house in Silverlake, the site of Sharon Tate’s last meal at the Beverly Blvd restaurant El Coyote and most prominently the murder location on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Scott elaborates about some of the juicier details of the case. He uses an interesting multi-media approach, incorporating video of the actual events, shown on a screen in the front of the van, and sound bites from the murderers themselves. Much of the visual material is taken from a 2009 documentary on Manson called The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter that Scott Michaels hosted, co-wrote and co-produced.
All in all, with Michaels’ gregarious commentary, the music and the video footage, this tour flows seamlessly and there is never a dull moment. Obviously this tour is definitely not for everyone, but it is highly engaging and worthwhile for the particular niche it is aimed toward. Scott talks of possibly eventually putting together a rock-n-roll tour of Los Angeles and I am quite certain that will be quirkily informative and fascinating as well.
Dearly Departed Tours: 6603 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028; 1-800-979-3370. www.dearlydepartedtours.com